With firefighters short of water, blaze at Kansas City, Kansas, recycling plant burns on
A Friday morning fire at a Kansas City, Kansas, recycling plant continued to burn into the afternoon as health officials warned residents of hazardous materials carried in the smoke that could be seen for miles around.
The fire at Advantage Metals in the 1100 block of South 12th Street started about 5:28 a.m. and burned over 500,000 cubic feet of material, prompting a response from three fire crews, six pumper trucks and officials with the federal Environmental Protection Agency, who monitored air quality at the scene, according to Assistant Chief Scott Schaunaman of the Kansas City, Kansas, Fire Department.
The majority of the flames had been extinguished by the afternoon and no injuries were reported. But members of the fire department expected to stay at the scene well into the evening as flames and plumes of smoke continued to emanate from the pile of metal at the center of the fire, Schaunaman said.
Around 10:45 a.m., the Johnson County Health Department issued a public alert saying the blaze was potentially impacting air quality in northern Johnson County.
Environmental justice organization CleanAirNow said air monitors in Wyandotte County indicated unhealthy levels of air pollutants about five hours after the fire started.
Around 2:05 p.m. the Unified Government of Wyandotte County Public Health Department posted a message to residents on Facebook.
“An early morning fire at Advantage Metals Recycling in Kansas City, Kansas, may affect people living, working, and traveling in the area,” the message said. “The Unified Government Public Health Department advises you to stay indoors at this time if possible.”
A spokesperson for the Wyandotte County Unified Government was not immediately available to answer questions about the fire or the public alert.
Firefighters had problems putting out the blaze because they lacked water sources near the recycling center, Schaunaman said.
When firefighters arrived, they had access to only one hydrant, which was about 1,000 feet away.
Hours later, about 1 p.m., crews were able to secure a second hydrant almost a mile away.
“Ideally we like water supplies closer,” Schaunaman said. “It’s difficult to put the gallons per minute of water that you need on the fire when you’re only operating with one fire hydrant.
“Put it this way: We’ve got two water sources now and we’re still trying to put this out.”
Firefighters have rarely received any fire-related calls from the Kansas City, Kansas, recycling plant, he said.
Fighting the fire
Schaunaman said he first saw the fire from about seven miles away, while driving near Interstate 70 and 18th Street.
At the recycling center, firefighters encountered a pile of burning materials standing about 70 feet high, 150 feet long, and over 50 feet wide.
Among the burning wreckage they saw automobiles, refrigerators and propane tanks, some still containing fuel that fed the fire.
Tires on vehicles burst in the heat, mimicking the sounds of explosions to many on the scene, Schaunaman said.
A crane operator working at the yard attempted to put out the fire, but failed.
The fire’s heat was too intense for firefighters to stand nearby, forcing them to either attack the fire from a distance or use a ladder to spray water from above the blaze.
“Our immediate concern was there was an overhead power line and the heat of the fire was kind of impinging on that,” Schaunaman said.
The Board of Public Utilities shut down the lines. Schaunaman did not know whether residential areas had been affected.
A foam trailer was called to the scene to assist, which does not occur often, he said. The foam helped quiet the flames as another fire crew and three more pumper vehicles arrived to help.
The Kansas Fire Marshal’s office did not immediately respond to questions regarding why there was only one fire hydrant near the recycling center.
Air quality concerns
In Wyandotte County, Schaunaman said emergency management officials told him they were not concerned about air quality hazards from the fire.
Air monitors in Kansas City, Kansas, showed elevated levels of potentially harmful pollutants known as particulate matter.
The environmental justice organization CleanAirNow has installed 20 monitors in recent years across the Kansas City metro. A monitor in the Armourdale neighborhood had a reading of 174 about five hours after the blaze was reported at the facility. The monitors use an index that measures air quality on a scale of 0 to over 300. A reading of 174 is considered unhealthy.
“That high of a number is a bad number when you are breathing it in,” said Rayan Makarem, CleanAirNow’s climate policy advocate.
The previous recent weekly average for that site was 47.
Numbers around 30 are considered acceptable, Makarem said. The monitors measure particulate matter 2.5, which can be inhaled and cause respiratory problems as well as environmental damage, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Makarem urged the EPA and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment “to be more stringent in the enforcement of regulations.”
The Unified Government has issued another alert on their website, which urged nearby residents to stay inside as a result of the smoke.